Tag Archives: retrospectives

Improvement Theme – Simple and practical Toyota Kata

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Improvement Theme is a tool in the form of a poster that works as a conveyor belt for continuous improvements once the Retrospective is over.

I’ve been reading a little bit about Toyota Kata and seen great presentations on the concept. In order to make it practical and useful for me I found myself tweaking it and packaging it in a concept I’ve come to call Improvement Theme. I’ve tried this concept a couple of times now and found it to be a good tool to extend improvements beyond the Retrospective and bringing it into the daily work. In this article I describe how to create the poster and how to use it as a tool for continuous improvements.

The Improvement Theme is a poster. I’ve been using magic charts since they are easily moved between the room in which the retrospective is held and the teams wall.

The charter consists of five areas.
1. Name of the Improvement Theme
2. Now/Problem – Description of the current situation
3. Definition of Awesome – How would we like it to be?
4. Next Target Condition – X weeks from now, what has changed?
5. First Steps – 3 slots for three post-its that describe the first (next) actions we will take?

It’s a living document, preferable put up next to the scrum/kanban wall. Once or twice a week the team reviews the theme and agrees upon new actions as they get completed.

When X weeks has passed the team does a review of the theme itself. If they want to continue on the same theme they identify a new “Next target condition”. Otherwise they create a new Improvement Theme poster.

Here follows an extensive description of how I’ve been using the concept as a tool for improvement and a more in-depth description of the different aspects of the poster.

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How to run a Big Retrospective

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At Spotify we recently did full-day retrospective with 65 people. The goal was to capture learnings from a large coordinated effort involving dozens of teams for over half a year. The teams had been doing sprint retrospectives during the project, but we also felt the need to get a larger group together and look at the big picture. The key output was 3 lists:

  • Insights (“what did we learn?”)
  • Recommendations (“what should we do the same in the future, what should we do differently, and why?”)
  • Mysteries (“which questions and problems need further investigation?”)

Organizing this was a lot of work, probably one of the toughest gigs I’ve been involved in, due to the number of people involved and the complexity of the project. I’ve run full-day retrospectives before, following a similar format as this, but with only half as many people. I’ve also run larger events with 100-200 people, but “unconference” style with no specific output expected. This event was more demanding, since we had lots of  people in the room and expected concrete, actionable output. Norm Kerth’s classic on Project Retrospectives provided lots of useful ideas on how to do this..

All in all it worked out well, and we learned lots (both about the project, and about how to run an event like this).

Joakim Sundén, one of my coach colleagues at Spotify, participated in the retrospective and wrote an excellent blog post about what we did, and also listed some ideas on how we can do retrospectives like this even better in the future. Here is Joakim’s article Running big retrospectives at Spotify. PS – Joakim is the guy with the green shirt below 🙂

From therapy to continuous improvements

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I had recently a conversation with a business partner of mine, Erik Andrén at Macmann Berg. We were working on the material for the next workshop in a leadership program we have at a client. This time the workshop was about coaching, both in general terms but also from an agile perspective. Erik has a background as a therapist but is nowadays working as an organization and management consultant. At our meeting he described his view about coaching based on a therapy model he had used as a therapist, and we then had  a very interesting discussion about the model and the connection to continuous improvement of teams and organizations. This post discuss this connection since I believe we have a lot to learn from how therapists approaches patients when trying to help them create a better life for themselves.

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Great Retrospectives

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Great retrospectives are amazing, they have a way of really getting a team to work together and to energize them ahead of a new challenge. But even a great retrospective becomes boring and routine after a while. Luckily, there are a lot of us at Crisp working with different teams, so we got together this evening for a peer to peer exchange about retrospectives. We each got to pitch retrospective exercises and games that we’d like to try, or that we wanted to share. We ended up discussing and trying out 9 of them. Here’s a summary  in case you’d like to try some of them out at your next retrospective!

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The concept of retrospectives is well established in the agile community as the way to incrementally improve your processes and the way the team members collaborate during their work. The idea is that by regularly looking back at the past period you may find improvement that will increase the productivity and delivered value.

This concept can also be used in other contexts, for example during a project kick-off at the start of a new project and team. To get the team on track and up to speed quickly it is important that the forming process starts out nicely and that the team learns how to collaborate and get focus on their work. Iterative processes with short iteration lengths helps out here in that the team needs to get focused in order to have a successful delivery after the first iteration. But you can also help out by establishing a common goal and vision for the team immediately at the start of the project. This common goal could help the team establish better collaboration and communication patterns as well as good process and engineering practices from start that will kick-start the project. And to establish that goal you could run a retrospective from the future, a future-spective.

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Perspective of Retrospective

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Scrum received some criticism today in Computer Sweden. The article featured an interview of Ken Schwaber and our guy Henrik Kniberg. Tobias Fors from Citerus was giving the comment that Scrum lacked support for retrospective. I am not sure if he was quoted correctly.

I am in the belief that Scrum has three roles, three artefacts and three meetings. Of the latter, there is one you should never skip.

The thing is, if you wish to get any better, you need to start thinking about what you do. If you do not do that, you will just muddle on like before. You probably reflect on your own ways, once in a while, as an individual, but you also need to do that as a group.

The only meeting you should never skip is the retrospective. Yet that is what seems to be happening very often, from what I hear and from the feature I mentioned.

As long as you do retrospective meetings, you can improve. You probably find that planning is also a good thing to do. But if you skipped retrospective and did planning only, you would not have a time to discuss how planning could improve. Except during your coffee break when everyone lets out their frustration anyway.

So how do you do a good retrospective meeting? There are many ways to go about, I’m sure, but let me give you a simple one that I even tried at home on a Sunday.

Divide a board in “good”and “not so good”. Hand out post-it notices and pens to everyone. Let everyone write down anything that springs to their minds when thinking about the last sprint (or last month, if you’re not iterative yet).

As they write down their thoughts, for each note, they place them on the board and states shortly what it is about. Try to refrain from discussion, is there any disagreement, just note that fact.

After a ten minutes, or when all are content, look through the notes and see if they some should be considered duplicates. If so, put them next to each other.

Now each participant is given 3 votes to put on the notes they feel is most important. All votes may be spent on one note or spread on more.

Count the votes and focus a discussion on the top five notes. Make a list of improvements from that and put on the wall visible to all.